Origin Deep Dive: Ethiopia
The birthplace of coffee?
Ethiopia is considered to be the birthplace of coffee. It is believed to have been discovered in the ninth century and was actually consumed as fruit rather than as a beverage. Its discovery over 1,000 years ago has developed into quite the legend!
The Legend of Kaldi
It all starts with Kaldi, a young goat herder living in the mountains of Ethiopia. It’s said that Kaldi found his goat acting strange - he was jumping, dancing, and frolicking!
Kaldi investigated and discovered that the goat had been consuming berries from an unfamiliar tree. Kaldi decided to try the berries himself and was surprised to find that he was so energized that he joined the goat in its erratic behaviour. During this energetic outburst, a monk wandered by and saw Kaldi and his goat and asked what was making them so lively. The monk believed it was the answer to his prayers. He explained that he was always falling asleep during his nighttime prayers and now, with the help of the coffee cherry, he would be able to stay awake.
The History of Coffee in Ethiopia
Arabica Coffee is believed to have originated in the highlands in the southwestern region of Ethiopia. From there, the plant spread around the world.
Coffee was first exported from Ethiopia in the 1600s but it wasn’t until the 1800s that there was strong interest from European traders. Ethiopia maintained harvesting primarily from natural coffee forests whereas neighbouring Yemen was exporting from coffee plantations. In the mid-1900s a grading system was introduced and the National Coffee Board was developed. This increased structure in the coffee industry was followed by years of turmoil in Ethiopia's ruling powers.
In the 1970s, following the overthrow of Emperor Haile and the military takeover, there was a redistribution and nationalization of land that prevented ownership of land or hired labour, therefore, forcing farmers to leave their farms. This depleted the coffee industry and Ethiopia returned to harvesting coffee from natural coffee forests.
From 1983-1985 Ethiopia was hit by a devastating famine that affected the lives of millions.
Following the 1991 overthrow of the Military Junta by the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front the country began its move towards democracy. Ethiopia now has cooperatives to help farmers navigate the ever-changing market and support them with funding. Despite the ongoing war in the Tigray region that had affected their ability to get supplies, maintain labour, and organize logistics Ethiopia is still producing exceptional coffees.
The taste of Ethiopian coffee
Ethiopia is known for their distinct and unique fruity and floral coffees. They can be intoxicatingly aromatic and express themselves with notes of citrus and tropical fruit. With a light to a medium body, they are often referred to as having a tea-like quality.
Their complex flavour profiles are a result of their processing. You can expect a washed Ethiopian to be elegant with highlighted complexity whereas a naturally processed one can be explosively juicy and refreshingly fruity.